Nearly 100 students will be laid off from their part-time jobs at the Toronto Catholic school board because the programs they work for are being axed by the Ford government as part of the province’s $25 million funding cut to school boards.
Those job losses are just the “tip of the iceberg” because all of Ontario’s 72 school boards are being impacted by funding cuts or reductions to specialized grants.
“It’s deplorable and despicable,” said Toronto Catholic District School Board chair Maria Rizzo. “Kids will suffer in the long run (by the cuts).”
A report by the board’s staff to its trustees outlines which of its programs have been impacted by the cuts and reductions because of the 2018-2019 funding changes to EPO (Education Program-Other). Cancelled programs include the Focus on Youth’s after-school program, which operates in high-needs urban neighbourhoods and employs about 60 part-time students, mostly from high school. Also on the chopping block is the Tutors in the Classroom program, which will impact about 35 university and college students.
“Those kids are going to be laid off,” said Rizzo, adding the government is impacting students who rely on those jobs to pay for tuition and gain valuable work experience. And those job losses are just at that one board, she said, adding she assumes hundreds will be impacted provincewide.
Dallin said students were “blindsided” by news of the funding cuts and reductions, saying the programs “are extremely important to maximize the potential of youth.”
Other cancelled programs include ones that help support Indigenous students, the physical activity needs of elementary and secondary students, and projects such as SpeakUp, which encourages students to lead projects in their schools. According to the report, the TCDSB estimates the cancelled programs amount to about $655,000 in EPO funding. But because these programs are being cut in the middle of the school year, the report notes that the board has already spent about $255,000 on them.
Other programs will receive reduced funding, but it’s unclear how much less. The province is expected to provide more details by the end of the week.
New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles called the cuts a “slap in the face” to parents who took part in the government’s public consultations on changes to the education system, which wrapped up Saturday — a day after the government announced the $25 million funding loss. For this school year, EPO funding will be $400 million.
“They are causing utter chaos in our school boards and in our schools,” Stiles, the NDP’s education critic and a former Toronto school board trustee said Tuesday in the legislature. Stiles accused the government of “taking an axe to programs” that help vulnerable students.
“Overwhelmingly, the programs affected are designed to help at-risk youth. The government has yet to share what actual research they have conducted that shows that children getting physical activity or children getting programming to help them succeed if they are at risk or providing leadership opportunities for children are programs that need to be cut.”
Education Minister Lisa Thompson noted the government will continue to spend $400 million in EPO funding this school year — even though $425 million was promised by the previous government last March.
“We’re moving forward with thoughtful investments that make a difference in the classroom environment,” Thompson said during question period.
She has previously said that following a line-by-line audit of spending, the changes were “responsible.” Her spokesperson has previously said some of the EPO spending was “wasteful.”
Thompson also said “tens of thousands of people responded” to the government’s education consultations.
“I can’t wait to start diving into that data, it’s so rich,” she said. “That consultation was based on informing our direction for the next school year of 2019 … that’s what our consultation was based on.”
Speaking with reporters, Premier Doug Ford revealed that the government received about 35,000 responses as part of its public consultation process, calling it “the largest consultation in Ontario’s history.”
And when asked whether the cuts in EPO funding are responsible because they impact vulnerable children, he said, “we’re reviewing everything right across the board … we have to go line-item-by-line-item.”
With files from Robert Benzie
Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy